Lyle Ashton Harris, Image courtesy of CRG Gallery
Last night I attended the opening of NYU Professor and friend, Lyle Ashton Harris. The exhibition is at the CRG gallery in Chelsea and is his first solo in New York in several years. Titled “Ghana” the work featured has shifted and is both romantic, painterly and yet still offers a level of “toughness” both in historical context and sexuality. He has chosen to exhibit both photographs and video that were shot in and around Accra. I’ve worked with Lyle since my own visit to Ghana last spring and have followed the progression and evolution as ideas and execution have come to fruition.
Lyle has an amazing way of working and when shooting either still footage or video, he is able to meld into the chosen environment becoming both chameleon and native. His relationship with Ghana has been an ongoing process and is both emotional, political, and personal. In a historical context he is returning to the “mother-land” time and again and with each interaction gains access to realms most Americans never get to go.
This is most evident in the video triptych “Untitled (Black Power) 1, 2, & 3”, 2010, where he has entered a makeshift gym in the wee morning hours and been priviledged to witness the workout regime of Ghanaian men (and a few aerobicizing women). Referencing Richard Wrights seminal written piece titled “Black Power” (published 1954), the viewer is not only forced to confront the power of the black body, but also to see through the lens of the artist, and watch as a performative affair takes place; a romantic interlude of sorts between artist, his subjects and crudely assembled weight lifting equipment.
The bodies contort and tone while music plays in the background. For myself the only thing I miss is the fragrance of place. As I’ve written before Ghana has a very particular smell and the air is permeated with burning palm oil, sweat, and earth.
Lyle Ashton Harris: Ghana is on view until April 3rd, 2010